Obsidian Dome is a unique geologic feature located on the Mono-Inyo Craters volcanic chain and sits off of US 395 between Mammoth Lakes and June Lake, CA.
Technically the area is located within Inyo National Forest, the agency maintaining the trails and keeping the parking lot cleared for winter recreationists. Easy to access, as it is right off the highway, you can escape into winter bliss in a matter of minutes after stepping away from your car.
Trails Near Obsidian Dome
The road is closed off in winter and becomes the main artery of a snowshoeing and cross-skiing circuit, offering some six miles of groomed trails over three different loops: West Loop, South Loop, and North Loop.
At the trailhead, there is a kiosk with a trail map. Snap a photo with your phone. All of the trails are very clearly marked, with blue diamonds on trees denoting the way.
I set off for the West Loop, the farthest of loops. Despite the slight incline, the road-turned-trail was groomed well enough, the hard-packed snow/ice making it a somewhat easy-to-moderate experience. With recent record snowfall in the Sierra, it was truly a winter wonderland everywhere I looked. At the junction for the loop, I decided to go counter-clockwise. A guy on skis was skinning up the clockwise way, and I did not want to interfere with his outing with his dog.
Immediately, the trail went up. Actually, it went up and up and up! Burning calves and heavy breathing was my experience. I was surrounded by trees, with no long views to see. Here and there, ski tracks came down from above and crossed over the trail and kept on going into the trees, meandering on the downward slope. Free spirits!
At the top of the loop, I was cresting out. A few times while shoeing, I could see distant snowy mountains. Eventually, I crossed paths with the skier and his dog, continuing in the direction of Obsidian Dome. Admittedly, it being covered in snow, and from the vantage point of the trail, I was a little disappointed in not being able to really see it. Nevertheless, I was out snowshoeing, so I could not complain. Experience what is here now, I told myself.
Back down the main artery of the trail system, I went, thinking that I may venture out on the South Loop. At the entrance, I noticed that well-defined and untrammeled xc ski tracks were there. I decided not to mess up the surface as part of trail etiquette, as skiers would undoubtedly love perfectly molded singletrack.
Continuing, I said hello to other skiers and shoers, making my way to North Loop. Thank goodness I decided to go out on it, as it afforded the best views of the day. Wilson Butte one way, vistas across a snowy meadow/field in the direction of Obsidian Dome another way, with more in between every which way. North Loop was an excellent way to end the day, feeling like I was in the center of a Sierra Nevada winter postcard.
Read More: Destination Snowshoe: Mammoth Lakes
Other Areas to Explore
As an alternative to snowshoeing the three loops above at Obsidian Dome, these Northern CA areas are close to there and offer snowshoeing and winter hiking opportunities.
Mono Lake could also be an option for winter hiking. I accessed the County Park from Highway 395 and hiked to the tufas, with snowy mountains as the backdrop. The path here is well-established, but bringing along a traction device (like our review of these Yaktrax) may prove helpful due to snow and ice. Depending on the timing and after a recent snowfall, there are occasions where you can xc-ski or snowshoe Mono Lake.
At the Inyo Crater Trailhead, you’ll find several multi-use trails. Whenever sharing the route with other winter enthusiasts, make sure to follow winter trail etiquette. I tried to head here, but the road was unfortunately closed for two days to clear snow/ice.
Finally, try snowshoeing June Lake. I snowshoed along the lake’s shoreline, and though it was not long or strenuous, it offered incredible views!
To Get To Obsidian Dome
Driving north or south between Mammoth Lakes and June Lake, you will see the brown signs on the side of the road marking the parking lot for Obsidian Dome, which is on the west side of US 395.
Have you been snowshoeing near Obsidian Dome, CA? What are some of your favorite trails in the area? Please share your thoughts with us in the comments below.